Recently, I received an email from independent filmmaker Lanze Spears, who asked if I’d consider “spreading the word” about his short doco, 20 Something.
I’ve since watched the film. It is clearly an exploratory work, a young filmmaker feeling his way. But I’ve got my interviewer hat on here, rather than my usual reviewer one, so I’ll simply direct readers to the movie and let this – and the filmmaker – do the talking. Lanze has kindly made available a link to 20 Something for readers of this blog. Take a look. See what you think.
I decided to interview Lanze not on the basis of my response to the film, but because he told me in his introductory email that he had made it “with no money, and was sleeping on floors, and friends’ apartments… I traveled on trains from city to city to get these stories told…”
Admirable, that sort of commitment. And as a result of positive feedback from audiences, he has been inspired to make a second film, now completed – 20 Something New York – about female dancers trying to break into the competitive dance world.
I’ve just completed interviewing Lanze Spears via email. Here is the transcript.
rolanstein: Why a doco, Lanze? Why not a fictional investigation of Gen Yers seeking to find their place in the world?
Lanze: Actually I began with a feature length script called The Drifters, that focuses on a group of high school friends sharing their last summer together before they all venture off to college and move on with their lives, and it focused on the same idea that 20 Something does – which is the death of innocence and the beginning of creating your own path in one’s youth. I still intend on shooting that film, but 20 Something was originally inspired by a fictional script I created. I also think the truthfulness and honesty in this documentary series is much more powerful than a fictional film, because you can relate to the people because they’re actual people, not characters I’ve made up.
rolanstein: Why did you choose to focus on young adults pursuing careers in creative areas like acting, filmmaking, graphic design, painting etc? Why not computer geeks, or mechanics, or teachers, or Wall Street aspirants?
Lanze: I was drawn to focus on young artists because I myself am an artist, and I wanted to expose to the people that may not be familiar with painters, models, and graphic designers and so forth, that these young creatives exist and are making moves. This isn’t to discredit anyone who is a young entrepreneur, engineer or businessperson, but this whole series is about chasing your dreams, and those were their dreams. If their dreams were to be a computer wiz, mechanic or teacher, then that’s what the film would’ve been about, because that’s true to who they are.
rolanstein: How did you select the interviewees? They come from far-flung geographical locations within the States. Why not focus on young creatives in your own locale?
Lanze: I feel showing different individuals from different areas and backgrounds as well as different personalities makes the film much more universal. If a film is much more universal and has a universal message more people can relate to it, and as a filmmaker I want my audience to feel like they not only know each character a little better after watching my films, but also that they know me a little better. When you watch 20 Something you’re on a journey, you’re visiting various people as well as various cities, so it didn’t make sense to shoot the film in one location… and I plan to take this film series to more cities in the future.
rolanstein: It’s fair to say all the guys who appear in the film are in the early stages of their creative pursuits. Do you have any long-term plans to follow up years down the track with another film tracking their progress and the career directions they take?
Lanze: I’ve joked around with the cast from this film that I should catch up with them and where they are 5 or so years from now, and we can call the film 30 Something. I would definitely be interested in that though; it would make this film series bigger than just a movie, but more of a personal documentation of the people in the film as well as myself as a filmmaker, so anything’s possible.
rolanstein: I notice Sufjan Stevens features prominently in the soundtrack. Why is that? Did you work with him in editing his music into the film, or did he give you carte blanche on that? Did he waive copyright royalties to minimise your expenses?
Lanze: Well I’ve always been a huge fan of Sufjan Stevens’ music and knew I wanted his music in my film. I felt many of the scenes in this film worked so well with his music, and I was willing to make any sacrifice I had to, to get to use his music. A woman from his management who approved that I could use their music saw Anastasia’s segment and really loved it. She grew up in Alabama so I felt like the stars just aligned and it was all meant to be. After I finished the first cut of the film it took me almost a year to pay off all of the music licensing fees, but it was definitely worth it!
rolanstein: How about the other artists who contributed music to the soundtrack? How did you select them? Did any of them write music specifically for the film? If so, could you describe the process involved?
Lanze: Well the music all came about organically which I think is the best way it should enter any film. Music and sound should add to the visuals and emotions you’re trying to illustrate in your work, so as I was editing the film I began to cut in various artists that I felt worked with the film. I also wanted to give a wide variety of the style of music you’re hearing and for it to not cater to one particular artist or style. I’ve been a fan of The Finches as well as Fki for a while, so I reached out to them and their camp and they enjoyed the film and wanted to be a part of it. I also hired a music composer, Robert Earl McDaniel, also know as Artist Sensey, and he composed four unique songs for the film, and I’m very thankful for all the help and support the musicians provided me in the post production process of this film.
rolanstein: I only viewed the film online, but the quality of the visuals seems pretty good. What equipment did you use in the shooting – a Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D600 stills camera, perhaps?
Lanze: I used a Canon 7D and a Nikon D5000 for the film, I would set several cameras up to get cutaways and I had one master camera that I used to follow each person throughout the film. This film was predominantly hand-held because I’m constantly following each person around and traveling from city to city, but also I love when the camera is always moving and never stagnant. I feel that movement pulls the viewer in and the audience is suddenly thrown into each city, location and house and is along for the ride.
rolanstein: What about the other equipment – lighting, sound, editing software?
Lanze: My grip equipment was very basic, I literally had one bag that had two lights, a mic and a laptop, and the other bag had my camera equipment and that was my whole set. I’m traveling on trains from city to city with little resources, so I honestly had to fit whatever I could into those two duffel bags and make it work. I edited 20 Something on my Macbook Pro on FCP, and it took me roughly 2-3 months to finish the first cut. After I finished the film and made it back home, I had to work 6 days a week cleaning an air force base to afford all of the publishing and licensing rights for the film. I would get home around 1:00am and edit til about 7:00am. So let’s say I didn’t sleep much that summer.
rolanstein: Do you mind divulging how much the film cost to make, in total, and how long it took you from go to whoa?
Lanze: The film equipment alone cost me close to $8,000 for the Canon 7D, the lights, sound equipment and all the lenses, and the cost of the film from production to post production was a little over $10,000. The music licensing alone cost me about $5,000, so this film cost me a little over $23,000 to make, which seems like a lot, but at the time I was looking at the bigger picture and knew it would add to the overall quality of the film. Now the soundtrack to the film is available on Spotify and Itunes, so it was definitely worth it in retrospect. Now fans of the film can enjoy the music in their car or ipod.
rolanstein: What do you consider the strengths of the film? What aspects are you most pleased with, and why?
Lanze: The thing I’m most pleased with is that audiences genuinely like this film and feel moved by it. As a filmmaker, what more can I ask for? Sometimes those hours spent editing and slaving away at the computer or all the floors I mopped and scrubbed seemed like it was for nothing; but every time this film is screened or someone mentions to me they’ve seen the film and felt moved and inspired by it, makes it all worth it in the end.
rolanstein: What about the weaknesses? What would you change, in hindsight?
Lanze: I don’t think I have enough room in this interview to spell out all of the weaknesses and things I’d change about this film, but I can say it was a great learning experience. At the time when I created it, I was watching several independent films and really wanted to take the risk to create my own, and went out there and shot it with very little money and preparation. As I look back on it, I definitely feel I’ve grown as a filmmaker and my work will continue to develop and change, but 20 Something truly made me a storyteller. Before 20 Something I felt like a filmmaker, but now I feel like a storyteller and feel that’s my purpose here, and I hope that through my films other people can discover their own purpose.
rolanstein: What’s your film background? Did you do any courses, or are you self-taught?
Lanze: I was always interested in acting when I was younger, and when I was in 5th grade I was chosen to interview these principals and state representatives along with some other kids for this local news station, and I loved being in front of the camera and being around all the equipment. As I got into high school I acted in several plays but began to rediscover filmmaking and began taking film classes at our high school. My film teacher, Carl Casinghino, really helped push me to grow as a filmmaker and recommended I try film school, and with the love and support from my parents as well, I kept making films that were pretty bad at the time; but I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far.
rolanstein: Why are you drawn to filmmaking as a medium of expression?
Lanze: I think what draws me to filmmaking is the characters and the story. I love action and horror movies like most people do, but I’ve always been drawn more towards drama even at a young age. I feel that filmmaking is an inescapable aspect of life, and we see people or ourselves we know sometimes in these various films. Mainly characters inspire me because life is all about human interaction, friendships and relationships and all of those things are unavoidable. So a film with great characters and dialogue are usually the films I’m most drawn towards. Til this day, Waking Life is one of my favorite films, it’s so simply put together, but the characters were so introspective and unique that it truly made it an amazing film.
rolanstein: OK, the film is completed, and is out there. Where do you go from here? How do you promote the film? Do you aim to recoup costs, or even go into profit? How?
Lanze: Well when I initially set out to make this film, I had no goal of making any money off of it, I was working several dead-end jobs that were crushing my creative energies and 20 Something was more of an escape for me to not give up on my craft and passion as a filmmaker. Both the films are available for Rent/Buy on Amazon.com and the soundtracks are on Itunes and Spotify, so through these platforms I’m able to make back most of the expenses I had from creating the first film. As of now I’m interested in going on a college tour and showcasing this film all over the country, if I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity. I’ve screened 20 Something at Indiana University South Bend as well as Wesleyan University, and the response from all of the college students has been great so far. So I’d love to take 20 Something on the road and screen this film series at several more schools.
rolanstein: What’s the thinking behind making the film available for free viewing, as well as advertising it for sale on Amazon?
Lanze: Well the film isn’t available online for free yet, but if the series continues to take off and there’s a much bigger demand for it, I’d definitely release it online for free for people to see. I put the film on Amazon.com because as a filmmaker or any artist you spend a lot of time, energy and money on your artwork, and if people really value your work and enjoy it they’ll want to see it, even if they have to pay a little bit of money.
rolanstein: 20 Something was made in 2011, and you’ve followed up with 20 Something New York. What’s in the pipeline now? Do you see the 20 Something films as an ongoing series, or are you planning to move in another direction?
Lanze: I honestly would love this series to continue to grow and blossom into a much larger series and film brand, but I use the audience’s feedback to help me choose where I should move next. When I made the first film, I had no intention of making it into a series, it was just one film, but after I screened it at the River Bend Film Festival in Indiana, several of the students that were in the audience asked me when this was going to be on T.V. or if I was going to make another one. I went back home after that festival and realized that this film was bigger than I thought, and could grow into something much larger, so I decided to shoot the second film, 20 Something New York. I want to continue to travel and show my work at more colleges and film festivals to build a much larger fan base and continue to use their feedback to help this film brand grow; and who knows, maybe there will be a 20 Something L.A.!
rolanstein: Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers?
Lanze: Create, Create, Create! If any filmmakers, or aspiring filmmakers are reading this, just go out there and create. I would tell them don’t worry about the final outcome and if it’s going to turn out bad, because however it turns out, you can use that as feedback to make your work better. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you your idea is stupid or that you can’t do it. Several people doubted me when I finished art school and began making films and still doubt me today, but I’m OK with that; as long as you look at the bigger picture and realize that this is your passion and your purpose here, all the outer opinions become less important. And one more thing, watch movies!
My name is Lanze Spears. I’m an Independent Writer/Director who’s inspired to create stories that focus primarily on people, relationships and human interaction. I’ve lived in Connecticut most of my life, but I’ve been blessed to travel around the country and continue to in the future. I’ve become much more of a visual filmmaker and love to play with the visual symmetry and cadence of how pictures, music and sound played with in certain rhythms, can really evoke a powerful emotion from your audience. I’m honestly grateful to be able to have a voice and be heard, and excited that film is the medium I can do that through.
NOTE: Lanze has subscribed to this post, and is happy to respond to any questions from readers – especially aspiring filmmakers – in the Comments thread.